What is there about the cry of a bagpipe that grabs at my heart and tugs me away from reality?
More than a fraction of heritage, I suspect.
I love the sound and rhythm of the pipes, the compelling drone that is as powerful and moody as Scotland itself.
Bagpipes are a keen reflection of the Highlands and islands, the lochs and the values--as keen and true as ruddy cheeks, malt whiskey and tartans. That proud land is not violin country, nor could its spirit be captured by a clarinet.
A white-haired piper was welcoming a delegation at Glasgow Airport as I arrived not long ago. I was so enthralled by the pulse or "Loch Lomond" that my suitcase made three trips around the carrousel before I noticed.
Or so I am told.
With each visit to Scotland I understand more deeply the lure of the Pied Piper. I'd follow one almost anywhere.
At Stirling Castle, above the spritzy winds and chatty guide, I heard that hypnotic tone. High on the ramparts, silhouetted against a heavy silver sky, was a lone piper. His kilt was whipping against his knees.
Carried away, I began humming loudly until a gentle elbow brought me back. The guide was chirping that Mary, Queen of Scots, was six feet tall. Well, so was the piper.
At the noble Gleneagles Hotel near Perth, a splendid resort where lagoon-like swimming pools, squash courts with spectator windows and jogging trails have joined the traditional sport of golf, my ears picked up the haunting reedy sound, that bold first note that fills the bag like air gulped in by a pump organ.
Before Eyes Could Dry
The piper was short and sturdy of build, a man in his late 70s, they said. Before moist eyes could dry from "Scotland the Brave" he swung into "Jesus Christ, Superstar."
To hear a pipe is to be in Scotland; yet finding one is not always easy. Pipers do not march on every corner, nor parade at every castle. The Edinburgh Festival of late summer is a great time for bagpipes; the hogmanay celebration on New Year's Eve is another.
But for those times in between, a hotel can be a traveler's best bet. A friend was down to her last four hours in Scotland, waiting between trains at the Glasgow station and dreading to leave without hearing a bagpipe. She wandered into a hotel lobby to stay warm and write in her diary. Soon the sound came to her, tendrils of pipe music curling out like vines.
"I didn't run, really," she told me, "but I walked upstairs as fast as I could. It was a wedding reception. The pipe was leading the bride and groom. I stood and I watched and I listened. I will never, ever forget it. That moment made Scotland complete."
So many of us are dreamers. How nice when those dreams come true.